Best of 2014

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This marks my 6th annual End of the Year listing. As usual, there’s plenty of great music I either missed out on this year, didn’t give enough listens in order to justifiably put it on my list, or stuff that just really didn’t catch my ear. I hope if nothing else, this gives you a few new artists to enjoy. Thanks for reading through my list, and please be sure to share your favorite albums of the year in the comments.

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Album Review: Brooke Waggoner – Originator

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Brooke WaggonerOriginator
Swoon Moon Music
Release Date: March 5, 2013
Recommended if you like: Feist, Sufjan Stevens, Fiona Apple

One of the first things you immediately notice about Brooke Waggoner is her vivid red hair. It certainly made her stand out as the keyboard player for The Peacocks, the all-female backing band for Jack White. In an interview with Spinner, Waggoner says touring with White was “a heightened level of touring and live playing that I haven’t ever had to experience.” Over the last six years, she has been writing, orchestrating, and arranging her own releases. In March, Waggoner will be releasing her third full-length album, Originator.

The album opens up with “Shiftshape,” a song that certainly fits the title on an instrumental level. The opening lyrics are sung with a heavy flanger effect, but her voice quickly reverts back to normal to sing the rest of the tune. While the piano certainly leads the way in most songs, the drums, guitars, and orchestral instruments make their presence known throughout every song.

The single from the album is “Rumble,” and it is arguably the most pop-friendly song on the record. The piano riff that opens up the song quickly draws you in for more, and by the end of the first verse, you are completely pulled into the song. The strong brass arrangement and roaring choir leading the march throughout the second half of the song. Weighing in at just over 2 minutes, the song most definitely packs a punch in its limited time.

Led again by the piano, “Perish” brings former listeners to familiar territory. The busy music playing through the verse all clears out during the chorus, making room for Waggoner’s heavenly vocals to belt out: “Go on, go on and steady me out. Oh, I got a lot to say. Take hold, take hold and settle me down. Living like I’ll never die.” Following with the lyrical theme of the song, the song slowly closes out with a gorgeous choir arrangement of the chorus that will make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end.

The first true ballad of the album, “Wellspryng” is a heartfelt song about love. Backed by a piano, a light atmospheric pad, and a lightly picked guitar, Waggoner cries out: “I know I’ll never love like the lamb I was. Ceaseless, it is the promise that I have, this wellspring always runs.

The album closes on a duet featuring guest vocals from Sanders Bohlke with the haunting song “To Love.” The dissonant piano runs in combination with the chords to open the song certainly set the tone for the duet sung back and forth between the two lovers. While Waggoner certainly takes the lead in the duet, Bohlke takes a verse himself, with his bellowing bass being a strong contrast to Waggoner’s very smooth voice. The album concludes lyrically with the two singing in magnificent harmony, “Be wise, you fool.

While each track very unique, the album is very cohesive and held together by Waggoner’s unwavering vocals and signature piano style. At the end of the day, Waggoner considers herself lucky to be able to write these songs with such musical liberty. When talking about the recording process on her website, she says, “It was January then and I have a vague recollection of layered coats, dry skin, cracked cuticles on the keys, and passing the chapstick around. Harps, Organs, big gold brassy instruments, field recordings, french films, basses of all different shapes and sizes, a magical choir, new friends and old somehow found their way into this music. I’m forever grateful it did.”

Rating: 8.6/10

You can order the album on Amazon and iTunes. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Album Review: Leagues – You Belong Here

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LeaguesYou Belong Here
Bufalatone Records
Release Date – January 29, 2013

Recommended if you like: The Black Keys, Jack White, Arcade Fire

In 2011, almost out of nowhere, a band called Leagues released a self-titled EP with 3 songs. From the first listen to the short EP, you instantly wanted to hear more from them as soon as possible. Unfortunately for those immediate fans, it took nearly 2 years before there was a proper release. With the help of a PledgeMusic campaign, Leagues self-released their debut album, You Belong Here. Comprised of singer Thad Cockrell, guitarist Tyler Burkum , and drummer Jeremy Luito, the trio cuts right to the chase with these hard hitting songs.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOTXM5obLcA%5D

From the opening drum beat and dirty toned guitar riff, you know “Spotlight” is a great choice for an opening song. With Cockrell’s soaring tenor vocals, the song’s lyrics are easy to follow and beg you to sing along with them. The title track “You Belong Here” continues on with the perfect drum beats, great guitar tone, and fantastic bass work. The chorus belts out in an anthemic shout: “You belong here, we’ve been waiting so long.”

“Haunted,” one of the songs from their prior EP, reaches you quickly from a lyrical standpoint. “You came to me in a summer dream, you came to me in a mystery. All alone on a desert road at night. I saw you in a motel room, I found my way but I do not have a clue. All along, I felt you deep inside.” The emotive lyrics of the opening verse bring the song title to life, and the ringing chorus certainly helps pound the point home: “Everybody has a heart worth breaking, everybody has someone that got away. Everybody has a love they’re looking for.

The song that will keep you hooked in the second half of the album is most definitely “Magic.” The simple but stellar guitar riff and bass line that runs throughout the song reminds you of something you’d hear from the great songsmith Jack White. The soaring falsetto vocals of Thad Cockrell are what make the song, though. The simple but powerful chorus make the song one that will be sung at every live show.

The album ends with two ballads, “Friendly Fire” being the most poignant of the two. Starting with piano chords and vocals, the song tells a story of love and heartbreak: “I wasn’t fighting with you, I was fighting for you. I was trying to do what I could do. And if it came across wrong, that wasn’t my intention. Sometimes I come across too strong, I think I just failed to mention. And if I ever hurt you, that was never my desire. You’ve been wounded by my friendly fire.” By the end of song, swelling guitars roll in and add a heart-rending emotion to an already sad song.

The album has already seen some recognition from the likes of MTV and Esquire, and for very good reason. This album is filled with one toe-tapping song after another. Here’s to hoping another great independent artists gets some well deserved recognition.

Rating: 8.8/10

You can pre-order the album on Amazon or iTunes. You can also like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.